College isn’t just about academics; for many students going off to university is the first time they’ll be on their own and fully in charge of buying their own food, toiletries and other necessities of life. Even if they are getting financial assistance from their parents, most college students will find themselves having to make do on a tight budget.
While many college students turn to credit such as balance transfer credit cards or private student loans to fund their lifestyle, many of today’s young people have learned a lot by watching the current financial crisis unfold. Instead of running up debt, they are looking for ways to make do with what they have. If you are one of these students, here are a few tips to get you started on living a frugal life.
1. Learn to get comfortable with asking. It’s easy to talk yourself out of asking for help or clarification. A lot of us have grown up with the idea that it’s better to give the appearance of knowing everything and that it’s shameful to talk about money. This can make asking questions intimidating.
The good news is that the more you practice asking questions, the easier it becomes. It is also a skill that will benefit you in many areas of your life, not just being frugal.
By asking questions you can find out everything from the availability of student discounts to finding out which books are really necessary to getting the heads up on a part time job. Learning to ask questions allows you to be proactive about finding deals, spending wisely and identifying opportunities.
2. Look for alternative transportation. Owning and operating a car is a significant expense so if there is any way possible to avoid it while you are in school, go for it. Walking and biking as much as possible is not only frugal, it’s also good for your health and the environment.
Learn how to use the campus shuttle system and local public transportation when time, weather or distance is a limiting factor. For occasional trips where a car is necessary, getting a ride from a friend, renting a car or calling a cab might be good options.
If you decide to leave you car at home during the school year, talk to your insurance agents about your options for saving on coverage during the time you won’t be driving.
For those who require a car, don’t fall into the trap of buying more car than you can afford. A safe reliable car is worth a bit of extra money over a hoopty, but don’t carry that over into thinking that means you should get the best car you can talk somebody into financing for you. Don’t forget to consider gas, insurance, maintenance and repairs and registration costs into your budget.
3. Be a leader. It’s alarmingly easy to blow all of your money in college by following the crowd. Nobody wants to be left out, but all those meals out, movies at the theater, club cover charges and road trips can add up fast. While sometimes you’ll simply have to bow out of things you can afford, do your social life a favor by being the friend that always has great suggestions for the group that just happen to be free or very low cost.
Keep your eyes open for free events on campus or discounts for college students. Don’t be shy about calling everyone in your book on a sunny afternoon to have a picnic in the park or go for a hike. Whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you have to spend a lot of cash to have a social life.
Some of your friends might not want to or need to save money, and that’s fine, too. Do invite them along to the activities you can afford and don’t feel embarrassed that you can’t always go with them to expensive events. You’ll find that you’re able to have a wide, diverse group of friends if you are proactive about staying in touch and finding things to do that everyone can afford.
Do you have any frugal living tips for college students? Please share in the comments so that the young adults in the audience can benefit from your experience!